The soft side of rock's wisecracking rebel

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Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, July 06, 2007
If there's one thing about the music business George Thorogood would like to change, it's the expectation that an album/disc/record must contain a dozen or more tracks.

"That's a concept I'd love to change in the music industry," says the veteran singer-guitarist, who headlines Bluesfest's main stage tonight.

With his latest disc, Hard Stuff, he found it a challenge to gather enough obscure blues songs that he could rework to suit his down 'n' dirty, rock 'n' roll style.

"The Hard Stuff is not a bad record," Thorogood said during a recent phone interview, his demeanour alternating between disruptive wisecracks and surprisingly sensitive insight. "But there's nothing obscure anymore."

"I don't know if you've noticed but they have a thing called the Internet now, and you can get anything you want," he cracks.

"You can find out anything. That's why to find obscure material, like I used to base my career on, is a thing of the past.

"And I've been playing a certain way for so long that I really can't play anything different. When we did Ride Til I Die (his previous studio disc), the songs were falling out of the sky. Something was just going right for me then -- there was material that I'd never heard, material that I could play, material that I enjoyed playing, material I could introduce in live concerts. But the last one was tough, very, very tough to pull that thing together."

Thorogood established his career with a string of hard-edged, testosterone-dripping blues-rock anthems, including One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, Bad to the Bone and I Drink Alone. His bluesy bluster about drinking and leaving conjured a rebellious image that holds great appeal with many of my biker friends.

They might be surprised to hear that their swaggering hero went through a period of self-doubt, and that he makes no secret of the fact that he's a sensitive guy. As a boy, he liked poetry and would get emotional over spotting the first robin of spring.

"You know how sensitive I am," he says. "I think that's the key to being an artist, whatever type of artist you are. I'm a performing artist, that's what I do. There has to be a level of sensitivity here. I'm not a bricklayer, I'm not a policeman. Policemen can't afford to be sensitive."

Thorogood eventually found enough material to fill Hard Stuff, including a couple of his own songs, as well as covers of tunes by Fats Domino and John Lee Hooker. There's even a sweet, soulful take on Dylan's Drifter's Escape that proves the sensitivity theory. But the Holland K. Smith track, Rock Party, makes a fun, upbeat song for Thorogood, and earns my vote as the Bluesfest song of the day. Sample lyric: "Come on everybody, there's a rock party tonight, everybody's dancing, everybody feels alright."

That's what it's all about for Thorogood -- the live show. In these days of endless entertainment options, he wants those who attend his concert to feel they've made the right choice.

"These people are paying money," he says. "There's other things to do. You gotta be aware of that. Basically you want everybody to leave saying 'I'm really glad I did that tonight.'"

He's just as adamant about getting them home safely.

"I think the most important issue of the night is that everybody goes home safely. No injuries, no auto accidents, safety first."

So if you can't resist hoisting a cold one when George growls the words bourbon, scotch or beer, leave the car (or motorcycle) at home. There's no parking anyway.

George Thorogood plays the MBNA stage at 9:30 p.m. Tickets & times, www.ottawabluesfest.ca

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This page contains a single entry by fountainhead published on July 13, 2007 12:00 AM.

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